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Arriving at the U.S. Port of Entry

For greater detail on procedures for traveling and arriving in the United States, visit: studyinthestates.dhs.gov.  There often are frequent and recent changes to the immigration entry procedure. The information below is intended to get you started on what to expect at a U.S. Port of Entry.

What You Need to Remember Before You Leave Your Country:

  • If you are an initial student/visitor entering the USA for the first time, you may not enter the United States more than 30 days before the program start date indicated on your I-20/DS-2019.
  • Though there are exceptions, your passport needs to be valid for at least six months beyond the date of your expected arrival.

Documents You Should Carry With You: When you travel, you should carry some specific documents on your person.  Do not check them in your baggage! If your baggage is lost or delayed, you will not be able to show the documents to the immigration officer, and, as a result, may not be able to enter the United States.  You need to have the following with you:

  • Passport with Visa (Note: Canadian citizens will not have a visa stamped in their passport.)
  • I-20/DS-2019, and SEVIS I-901 Fee Receipt
  • Evidence of Financial Resources (Scholarship award letter from ESF, Sponsor’s bank statement, etc.)
  • Name and contact information for the Primary Designated School Official (DSO) at ESF:
    • Thomas Carter, Assistant of International Education (PDSO)
    • Office: 315-470-4876
  • Your letter of admission or invitation to ESF and any other document that proves your status
  • A pen to complete the customs documents you will be given on the plane

Immigration Procedure: There have been many recent changes to the entry procedure.  You will first pass through immigration where you will present the above listed documents to the officer.  Your photograph and fingerprint scan will be taken (see OMBI section below), you will be asked to state the reason you wish to enter the United States, and to provide information where you will be staying.  It is important that you tell the immigration officer that you will be a student at SUNY-ESF.

  • If you enter the U.S. at an airport: After the officer reviews your documents and admits you, your passport will be stamped and notated with your visa status and duration of status.  Before leaving the booth, be sure to check that the notation says “F-1 D/S”. if you have an I-20. If you have a DS-2019, it should say "J-1 D/S".  If there is a discrepancy, be sure to ask the officer for clarification.  You will not receive any other document that indicates your visa status.  You will be able to print a paper Arrival/Departure Record (commonly known as an I-94) by visiting cbp.gov/i94.  After your arrival to campus, you will need to provide a copy of your I-94 to OIE.
  • If you enter the U.S. at a land crossing:  You might be provided with a paper Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record) at the port of entry which you will complete and give to the immigration officer.  If admitted, the officer will stamp your I-94 with your visa status and duration of status.  Before leaving the counter, be sure to check that the notation says “F-1 D/S” or "J-1 D/S",  If there is a discrepancy, be sure to ask the officer for clarification.

(Note to Canadian Citizens: Since you do not have an F-1 visa in your passport, you will apply for F-1 status at the port of entry. It is important that you present the officer with your I-20 and let him/her know that you want to enter the U.S. as an F-1 student.  Do not enter the U.S. as a tourist under the visa waiver program as you would need to depart the U.S. and reenter as an F-1 student before you would be permitted to study.)

Customs Procedure:  After passing through the immigration inspection, you will collect your baggage (if you have traveled by airplane) and proceed to Customs.  You will give the Customs Declaration Form (provided to you at the port of entry) to the officer when instructed and you will not receive it back. To see a sample form and instructions visit bit.ly/cbpform.  There is a possibility that your bags may be randomly searched.  In the case that your bags are selected for a search, be sure to comply with the officer’s instructions.  After you pass through Customs, you are officially in the USA!

Secondary Inspection: If your information cannot be automatically verified by the immigration officer or if you do not have all of the required documentation, you may be directed to an interview area known as “secondary inspection”.  Secondary inspection allows immigration officers to conduct additional research in order to verify your information.  If you are sent to secondary inspection and need assistance, please contact OIE.

Temporary Admission: Failure to provide proper documentation and/or to comply with entry/exit procedures is cause to refuse a student admission to the United States.  In limited circumstances, if a student is mostly, but not fully in compliance, the student may be issued a Form I-515A “Notice to Student or Exchange Visitor”.  This form authorizes temporary admission to the United States and requires the student to take immediate action to submit proper documentation.  Noncompliance with the directions contained in these forms may result in denied reentry.  If you receive an I-515A, it is important that you contact OIE as soon as you arrive to SUNY ESF.

OMBI: In March 2013, the Office of Biometric Identity Management was created to replace US-VISIT.  OMBI maintains a comprehensive entry-exit registration system at all international airports throughout the United States, pre-clearance inspection facilities, and designated seaports servicing cruise ships. All nonimmigrant visitors holding visas (including students) will participate in the biometrics program that involves obtaining a scan of two index fingerprints and a digital photograph.  Race, national origin, and religion are not factors in the biometrics program, as it applies to all nonimmigrant visa holders. For more information, visit: http://www.dhs.gov/obim

Next Step: Arriving to ESF and International Student Orientation